Strong Communities Organize and Advocate: Let’s Be Strong!

We are better together.   Squeaky wheels get oiled. These are the cliches of advocacy.
On Tuesday night (October 10, 2017) I proposed to the Sea Cliff Board of Trustees the creation of a Research and Advocacy group for Sea Cliff. The basic proposal is to create a Committee of the Board of Trustees, that takes direction from and reports to the Board of Trustees and has no authority to act on its own, but is charged with following the direction of the Board.

This Committee would focus on researching issues external to the Village of Sea Cliff that are affecting or have the potential to affect the quality of life in Sea Cliff. Further, the Committee would advocate for the interests of the Village to outside agencies, governments, media and corporations.

Research would include a deep understanding of all factors of an issue, the people, agencies, organizations, institutions and others involved, analysis of points of leverage for effecting change and defining strategies for gaining such leverage in the service of protecting and furthering the interests of Sea Cliff.
We have a strong internal structure of support, engagement and management: we have many committees, boards and other organizations which focus on activities and issues within our one square mile. We do an outstanding job. Our village is charming, clean, safe and just lovely. However,

external pressures are increasing and we need a plan to engage and manage these forces to protect this lovely way of life.

New York American Water, RXR, high-density development in Glen Cove and Roslyn, mandates for consolidation, continuously decreasing state aid to villages, environmental issues, traffic and safety issues are some external pressures that come to mind. Further, the New York State Conference of Mayor and Municipal Officials (NYCOM), the primary organization for villages, has their own legislative agenda and advocacy group which we could connect with more closely to our benefit. NYCOM’s legislative agenda includes increasing state aid to villages, modifications to the tax cap, funding for local infrastructure, especially roads, water and sewer projects, fighting unfunded mandates from the state and federal levels of government.
A research and advocacy committee in our village would be dedicated to deeply understanding these issues and advising the Board of Trustees.

This research and insight would be a valuable tool in planning and managing our village.

This idea is not new or mine: I got it from serving on a similar committee (the Legislative Action Committee or LAC) in our school district. Through that work I’ve learned about many other such committees, usually in high-performing school districts. If you take a look at well-managed, high-functioning organizations, many of them have research and advocacy teams. Information and knowledge are not only power, but necessary for good planning and management.
Involving more people in our government by making this committee an official committee of the Board both makes our village government and community stronger and creates responsibility and accountability on the committee. A committee of the Board can also organize our citizens to advocate for our shared values and interests. Making this an official Committee of the Board is the first step and definition of organization.

Organized communities are able to plan and manage better, better able to advocate for their interests with decision makers and are more effective at achieving their goals.

North Shore School’s LAC has built a coalition with other school district’s who also have LACs. Together we met with the Commissioner of Education over the Teacher Evaluation issue. In that meeting, one of the first questions we asked the Commissioner, who decides on the policies that impact our schools, how often she considers schools like ours – high-performing and well-managed — in creating policies like the current teacher evaluation system. She took a breath and admitted that up until that point she had not considered us. She said there were so many failing schools, and failing badly that she was focused there and it was clear that what those schools need is very different from schools like ours need. In fact, the policies put in place to help failing schools, were inadvertently hurting high-performing schools. There is currently a moratorium on the teacher evaluation system as it relates to testing.

I don’t think we single-handedly accomplished that, but I do think we were influential in creating that change. I do know that change was created by people organizing and advocating for their interests. Advocacy works.

I first proposed this idea to the Board at our October 2 Conference Meeting. At that time there was primarily objections to the proposal. Here are the objections: there are already many people involved in NYAW; any person can do research and present it to the Board at ay time; the school’s LAC is not really effective; and people in our community will not be interested in this and won’t volunteer for this. At the October 10 meeting I said much of what I’ve written here and asked my fellow Board members to try to detach this proposal for me and think about what is good for Sea Cliff and our future. I did not ask for a vote at that time, allowing the other Board members time for thoughtful deliberation.
I believe in organization. I believe that we should seek knowledge and information. I believe in advocacy. I believe that I am surrounded by smart, creative, talented people who greatly value the quality of life that we’ve created together in Sea Cliff. I see the construction sites, witness the speeding cars, see the water bills, smell the dirty water, see the sadness and bewilderment at another untimely death, and watch our state taxes go up to Albany and very little of that money come back down to Sea Cliff. I know that being frustrated and angry and posting those feelings on Facebook doesn’t change anything.

Deep knowledge, strategic thinking, organization and advocacy are time-tested and proven approaches that work. I believe it is time that Sea Cliff takes this affirmative step in helping to secure a future for this village that is as lovely as it is now.

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